The Civil War Diary of Jacob Marshall
by Richard H. Hall
Paperback; 46 pages, illustrated. (Brentwood Press, Brentwood, Maryland,
This novelette recreates the military service of the 5th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War from the viewpoint of the regimental clerk. Except for the fictional narrator’s activities, every detail of the story is factual. The battles described, the weather conditions, the incidents in camp, the details of army life, combat scenes, all are based on historical records. The book, therefore, while technically historical fiction is 90-95% historical fact.
Jacob Marshall and his comrades in Company K of the 5th Michigan experienced it all. Army life was difficult, but a strong bond arose among the soldiers as together they faced the trials and tribulations of warfare and the vagaries of weather, not to mention the aggravations of military bureaucracy and incompetent leadership.
When the Civil War broke out, Jacob Marshall enlisted in the Saginaw Light Infantry militia unit in Saginaw, Michigan, which became Company K of the 5th Michigan Infantry. The regiment was sent to Washington, D.C., to join the Army of the Potomac, with which it participated in most of the big battles in the Eastern Theater (including the Seven Days battles before Richmond, 2nd Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness). Jacob made frequent notes about army life in his small pocket diary whenever he had a chance.
Jacob and his comrades experienced all the
hardships of camp life: rain, mud, bitter cold winter weather; violent
storms; inadequate food and supplies; and the quirks and random events
of army life. As regimental clerk, Jacob often worked closely with
the officers, but he and the others sometimes had strained relations
with the “shoulder-straps,” army slang for officers, and
occasional bitter conflicts with them. And Jacob had a secret that
he carefully kept from the officers and other soldiers for fear of
being discharged. The army was his home; he had no living relatives
in Michigan, though he knew many of the soldiers from Saginaw.
While recuperating from his wounds, he used his small pocket diary as the basis for a more permanent record, adding details to the sometimes brief and hastily written notes jotted down by candlelight in spare moments while in the field. But his wounds were healing, and soon he would have to return to his regiment which still was active in Virginia. How many of his comrades would still be alive? What further battles would they face? What would their ultimate fate be?
Jacob’s adventures provide a snapshot of life in the Army of the Potomac in 1862 through 1864, and an accurate history of the Civil War for those years. The comings and goings of generals and the victories and defeats as observed by the so-called “common soldier” (like Jacob, they were often uncommon) are reflected in the diary.
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